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University of Wisconsin–Madison

AOS 405 Career Blogs
Applied Meteorology jobs in Atmospheric Science

Introduction

It can feel restrictive being an atmospheric science major. There are few well known job paths (broadcast, NWS, academia) and those might not sound that interesting to you. We feel you, and that’s why this document exists. We are going to discuss some of the non-traditional routes this major has to offer.

Applied Meteorology:
The first profession that is going to be discussed is basic applied meteorology in the private sector. This is a broad profession primarily in the private sector that covers a lot of ground so let’s take applied meteorology in agriculture as an example. The day-to-day job requirements of an agricultural meteorologist is to forecast specifically for your agriculture clients. That could be telling them when to water their crops or to put off planting a field in case of a late freeze. Your job is to help them make decisions to minimize expenses and maximize profit. That’s the general goal across all applied meteorology jobs, consult and provide information services to clients.1  Some other common applied meteorology sectors are energy, transportation, health & wellness, and insurance. Take a look at some of the links below to explore companies that utilize applied meteorology.

Riskpulse: https://riskpulse.com/how-it-works/
WeatherData Inc: http://www.weatherdata.com/about_us/ 
Weather Analytics: https://www.weatheranalytics.com/about/
Here’s a link to a new article written applied meteorologists and their value, especially during the holidays: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/meet-the-secret-army-of-meteorologists-who-keep-your-holiday-deliveries-on-time/2014/12/08/2d9d3c82-759d-11e4-9d9b-86d397daad27_story.html?utm_term=.0af3c3bc24e1

Military:
A second applied profession that you can pursue with an AOS degree is with the military. Various branches of the military employ meteorologists to assist with operations and perform research.2 Using the Air Force as an example you can be more of a traditional forecast officer stationed at a base or participate in field missions as a Special Operations Weather Technician. The Navy and Army also have meteorologists that serve in similar capacities.

Air Force: https://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/weather-officer 
Navy: https://www.navy.com/careers/information-and-technology/meteorology-oceanography.html#ft-key-responsibilities
Army:  https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/browse-career-and-job-categories/intelligence-and-combat-support/field-artillery-surveyor.html 

The military and applied meteorology are only a couple examples of different paths you could pursue outside of forecasting and academia; there are many more possibilities out there. Regardless of path, having a strong background in meteorology and being able to communicate is key. We as meteorologists understand what we are seeing in the data, but everyone else will not. Being able to effectively get our point across is crucial to make sure the data is correctly understood. Other relevant AOS skills include coding - a valuable skill wherever you go. Having a background in any other discipline can only help and being a good team member is highly sought after. The last thing that is so important to succeed in any job is passion. Being passionate about what you’re doing isn’t teachable, so possessing that is a huge bonus. If you want some more information about careers the American Meteorological Society has a nice overview; the link for that is below.

AMS meteorology page: https://www.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/education-careers/career-guides-tools/all-about-careers-in-meteorology/
1. http://glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Applied_meteorology
2. https://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/weather-officer

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Resources

This career field is broad, exciting, challenging, and fun, all at the same time. It is a beautiful thing, but it can become stressful when first getting onto the AOS academic path. For this final section, we will cover a few resources that will make the process much simpler.

Computer Skills:
Firstly, this field is moving farther and farther into the information and technological sector. As both Greg Postel and Jon Davis mentioned, a good understanding of coding, a programming language, and software programs is becoming essential. One of the most important programming languages you can know is Python. There are various online self-learning tools you can utilize to gain a decent understanding of the language. The official Python website has a great beginners guide (https://wiki.python.org/moin/BeginnersGuide ) to help you learn the basics of Python. For other great resources to learn Python, the website Quora has a blog post detailing many various tools (https://www.quora.com/How-should-I-start-learning-Python-1. If learning on your own is a challenge, think about enrolling in Python or other programming language courses throughout your time at UW - Madison. The UW Course Guide (https://registrar.wisc.edu/course-guide/) can allow you to search for all different types of computer science and programming courses. The best part about programming languages is that they are all quite similar: If you learn one well, it will be much easier to pick up another. Like anything, it takes practice. Learning at home and doing fun, at home projects with computer languages will be priceless in your quest for an Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences degree.

Communication:
As mentioned by both interviewees, communication is becoming absolutely necessary in all sectors. Being able to communicate your findings, your ideas, or any other matter is crucial in the science field. Unlike computer languages, this is not as easy to learn. One must actively strive to become a better communicator. By taking classes that force you to think outside the box, to synthesize your ideas and present them through papers, presentations, or talks, you will learn how to best organize your own ideas and then convey them effectively. A great resource for this is your college education. Broaden your education by included classes that force you to work this way. The Humanities and Communications departments are designed to make you become a better communicator. Although these classes at not directly applicable to an AOS degree (although, there are classes that have a blend of Atmospheric Science and Communications), the skills you learn by taking them will be invaluable down the road.

Undergraduate Experience:
Lastly, this major and this career path (like most nowadays) love people with experience. That may seem like an impossible task to get without a degree, but rest assured: it is not. The University of Wisconsin website offers a Student Job Center (https://jobcenter.wisc.edu/) that allows for you to search for undergraduate research and internship opportunities that are being offered on and around campus. Do not be afraid to take a research opportunity in a non-AOS field, as the skills you learn there can be applied to many various aspects of your AOS education. Another invaluable resource for finding research opportunities and internships is through your own professors and academic advisor. A great first area of contact is the Physical Sciences Undergraduate Advisor, Eric Schueffner (elschueffner@wisc.edu). If you join the AOS email list (email AOS University Services Associate, Sue Foldy, at sdfoldy@wisc.edu for getting onto the department wide email list), Eric Schueffner sends out monthly job and internships openings for AOS and the Physical Sciences. Just remember: It may be hard to knock on their door and introduce yourself, but your professors and advisors are a direct connection to this field, and their knowledge is extensive. Ask them about research they are doing, see if they have openings in their labs, because you never know – they just might!

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Greg Postel

Meteorologist at the Weather Channel. Undergraduate degree: Mathematics, Masters and PhD Atmospheric and Oceanic Science

Picture of Greg Postel

What was your day like today? (a nor’easter took aim at the east coast.)

“Improvisation was key today. Weather was ongoing, that’s a big challenge because information changes at a moments notice. You might have a plan, and then it will get flipped upside down. One thing that’s also considered (when putting together a show) is reporting from the field - that can help us communicate and give visual of conditions around the country to viewers. I have to shift focus a lot. The day before, I’ll meet with producers and go through an outline for what to talk about. We make a flexible plan for each block of the hour going back and forth between live reports and reports from me.”

Some of our professors strongly believe in letting the models handle the forecast. How much do you take models into account for your forecast?

“I look at real time data and make judgements based upon reports that are coming in. I can make judgements based on whether or not a model will underperform, or not. It’s important to consider model bias, and historical performance.”

How do you deal with such tight deadlines? In college we have a week or so to work with a deadline, you have about an hour. How was the transition going from planning and organization to going into such an intense and quick-moving environment?

“When you’re on-air, there’s no wiggle room. You have to be ready, you have to be on your game. It is a big transition. The deadlines are real, and if you don’t meet them, there are consequences. You will not last long in the business if you can’t make that transition.”

What was the timeline of your career-path?

“My passion for meteorology began when I was a kid. I attended Graduate School at WI in the middle 90’s, and I finished my PhD in 1999. I dipped into a lot of different subjects with meteorology, always learning about as many things as I could. That helps preface the fact that I had about 3 different careers. Academia, Private-Sector, and now public broadcast. I worked as a post-doctorate with Michael Morgan in academia, and then I was a weather analyst to price insurance products. Then, I started making contacts with local TV personalities in Kansas City. They helped me out on the side, showing me the ropes. I made a leap of faith into TV. It takes a village to get a job in TV, knowing people is extremely important. You never know where the bridges are going to take you.”

Did your degree help you the most? Or did the things you learn in the degree (such as coding, forecasting, time management, etc) help you more?

“Both. The degree is extremely helpful for first impressions, when people can assume you know something. However, the tools you learn in that degree are really important. In addition, I learned so much from the private-sector world and I brought that here. The degree matters, being interested matters, and the passion will get you really far.”

What kinds of fields value our degree?

“TV is one pathway to go, people are more interested in having meteorology anchors who know what they’re talking about and that understand the science. The appetite for science knowledge is growing within viewers. It’s no longer the case where you just follow the traditional path from graduation to being a research scientist. It is much broader than it used to be.”

Communication is key. So, how much outreach do you do with the public?

“There are some restrictions, but i’ve spoken to a lot of schools locally, there’s definitely a lot of public outreach. It’s just hard to get out of the studio when there’s a weather event. We often send a presence to the AMS Annual Meeting, but not as much as I’d like.”

What are meteorologist’s hours generally like?

“Oftentimes you start out on nights, “the graveyard shift”. The hours are often very inconvenient. And the pay in the beginning is not all that great. After a year or two, that might be enough experience and then you can jump into a position that’s much more comfortable financially and for your sleep. A first job in TV might take you to a place you’ve never heard of. You might end up in North Platte, Nebraska and your pay really won’t be that much.”

TV hours and pay are tough, so how do we keep people interested?

“Reach out to local meteorologists, try things out and see if you like it. Find a mentor. It’s important to make sure your passion is being addressed. It’s important to get out there so that you can make your resume reel - that’s ultimately going to be what gets your career jump-started.”

What is your advice to people who can’t find internships?

“Find someone who is willing to let you use the green screen for a couple hours. Send an email, and meet with someone once every couple months. It’s not an internship, it’s just somebody kind enough to help you out.”

Student Comment: Finding a tv internship is extremely hard. Getting experience on the green screen is essential to getting your first job out of college in broadcast, so this is a way to do that without an internship. Besides TV, try to dip your toes into any part-time meteorology job available.

What do you say to people who say “I wish I could get paid to be wrong all the time?”

“Nobody has asked me that, but I know that quote. I feel like in what I do, I offer a lot of value. It doesn’t matter about a number, I tell you what the risks are. It’s not about did you get it right or did you get it wrong, every forecast is wrong. You’re always gonna get a bad outcome, the question is by how much.  The expectation for a number has gotten way out of hand, and has far surpassed what science can provide.”

Are you trying to do things like improve communication to better teach the public?

“Communicating uncertainty is key, and providing ranges is key. The weather service is doing that too. It’s not about whether it’s right or wrong, it’s about trying to communicate science.”

What kind of things should you have on your mind going into junior year and starting the AOS program?

“Find something that you’re interested in and be the best at it. Don’t get distracted. Being an expert at something matters. You only get a tiny flavor of all meteorology in undergrad. So, really zero in on a topic. But you can take your time, too. There’s no need to rush. I think you make better decisions by breathing a little bit.”

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Jon Davis

Chief Meteorologist at RiskPulse. Undergraduate degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science

Picture of Jon Davis

How did your career get to where it is today?

“I went to Madison in the early to middle 80’s, and I graduated in 1985. I didn’t specifically know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to be a meteorologist for sure. A month before graduation, there’d be job interviews posted on the 8th floor. There was an interview posted for EF Hutton. It was a meteorology position in New York. I got that job, and worked there forecasting for agriculture, doing classic applied meteorology for 18 years. Then, someone in OKC contacted me and recruited me and my team to “Chesapeake” a small firm in Oklahoma City. During that time we went from a firm of 500 people to 13,000 people as a natural gas firm. I worked 10-11 years there, and at the end of that they had new management and my boss, my team and I were all let go due to restructuring. Fast forward to RiskPulse, and we now do supply chain logistics. I do forecasting for the shipping and delivering of items such as MillerCoors, etc. They’re interested in the risk of weather to products.”

How important is it now for someone to have a masters degree in ATM SCI? Do you tend to hire people who have a masters over someone who just had an undergraduate degree?

“People didn’t really used to go to grad school unless they wanted to be academics or in remote sensing. Of course, that’s changed. One example of a candidate we hire is a PhD candidate from Wisconsin about a year ago. We tend to go more Masters/PhD due to the fact we lean toward more specialization of things. It’s really important to us that you are able to code, forecast, and provide a good synopsis. We need good communicators who are able to handle our data.”

If someone wants to get a job in private sector, but doesn’t want to go to grad school, do you suggest they double major in AOS and say Computer Science?

“That’s a way to go, for sure. Also something like an MBA would be really applicable. Internships are absolutely crucial, because real life experience is absolutely crucial.”

Do you have normal business hours?

“No. This is a very morning intensive job. People want information before any markets open. They now open really early. We also do some european business. I’ll tell you my schedule: I wake up at 4, and I’m in here at 4:45. It’s always been that early. From there until 9:30, that’s crunch time. Putting in reports, talking to clients and making conference calls. I usually work until about 4 or 4:30 PM.”

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